Let me first say how excited I am to be a guest blogger on My Crazy Adoption. I met Kari through my blog design business, Blogs for a Cause- www.madebynikki.blogspot.com. I design blogs to raise money for different charities, and for my humanitarian aid work, and Kari was an early customer shortly after her adoption of Zoie, and again when she switched to this new blog. I have been following her story ever since, and love watching her advocate for adoption and orphan care. It is an honour to be able to share my own thoughts on a blog that is so widely read and respected.
I figure I should tell you a bit about myself, before I go further into this post. My name is Nikki and I am a 21-year old working for a global NGO in Toronto that focuses on education. I graduated with a BA in Cultural Anthropology and landed this job shortly after my graduation, and a summer volunteering in India. Since I was 17, I have traveled and volunteered in the DR, Haiti, Ethiopia, Thailand, India, and most recently, Kenya. You can read about my experiences at my blog, www.onetinystarfish.blogspot.com. Most recently, since beginning a University certification in International Development, and working for an NGO, I have been thinking a lot about humanitarian aid and the concept of giving a hand up vs. a hand out, and that is what I want to write about today.
We all know the Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” How many of us actually put this into practice?
In the summer of 2009, I lived in the Dominican Republic, working with both Haitians and Dominicans on education projects in the poorest slum areas. Every day, as I stood in front of a school that the kids attended, I would see a big truckload of well-meaning tourists drive by throwing candies out the window at the kids, who would drop their books and run to catch them. Like animals in a zoo, the tourists snapped photos of these kids through the bars of their truck, pushing others out of the way to catch a photo of the poorest child with ragged clothes and bare feet. I cringed at the exploitation of these kids, and cringed knowing how I used to be one of those people.
Earlier in 2009 I went on a trip to Ethiopia. I had the extreme privilege of meeting Tsehay, my sponsor child, and worked teaching English to students through a Community Center. One day, I took a day off of my work and travelled to the capital to visit a well-known orphanage for children with HIV/AIDS. I had been strictly told, before arrival, not to hand out gifts to the kids. In an orphanage setting, or in any setting that involves some kids having more than others, it only leads to jealousy and hurt feelings. I stuffed my bag with beanie babies, stickers, hair ties, and other meaningless trinkets with the hopes of taking a walk around the community afterwards and handing it out. As soon as the kids woke up from their naps, one dug his hand into my bag, broke out a sticker, and all Hell broke loose. Whatever hopes I had of teaching English, playing, and building meaningful relationships with the children was gone as the jealousy and hurt feelings rose to the surface, just as I had been warned. I felt horrible, but had learned a valuable lesson. Never again will I bring items like this to a developing country to give as gifts. It gives the “volunteer” a bad name within humanitarian circles, and leads to dependency on the hand out.
My focus now is on sustainable giving. I am creating Education Funds for students I have connected with, and am starting with a young girl named Andrielis from the Dominican Republic- http://andrielis.blogspot.com/ She is 14-years old, and has lived a difficult life, which you can read about on the blog. I am putting her through private English lessons, and when the next school year begins, she will be registered in the best private school in the city. Education is the only and best way to truly give people the tools they need to lift themselves out of poverty. That said, I want Andrielis to take ownership over this opportunity, rather than me just handing it to her. In order to keep this opportunity, Andrielis will need to work for it. She will have to spend time each week teaching her brothers all that she is learning at school, and I am planning an opportunity for her to begin volunteering her time in the paediatrics wing of the local hospital, which serves many Haitian people who struggle deeply under the bad conditions of the services.
Humanitarian aid is failing in some countries, like Haiti, and being very successful in others. I write this post as a challenge to you. Next time you give, and I hope that it is soon, consider giving in a sustainable way. Give to a project that provides tools and opportunities for students to learn and lift themselves out of poverty. Let’s not continue handing out fish… let’s teach them how to fish and see promising and lasting change!
Visit my blog at http://www.onetinystarfish.blogspot.com